An effective to-do list is essential to using your time productively.

To-do lists mean that you don’t have to keep track of everything in your head. They help you stay organized and on top of deadlines.

But how do you make an effective to-do list? Here a few things you can try to make your to-do list work for you.

Choose Your Medium

There are so many ways and places to keep a to-do list. Pen and paper is a classic way to go, and dry erase boards are a variation on that. There are many digital options, too, from lists with checkboxes to calendars and more.

Not everyone has a dry-erase board in their workspace, others don’t like the clutter that a paper list adds to their desk, and still others don’t want another window open on their screen, so pick what works best for you.

Pick Your Time Span

Most to-do lists fall into three categories – daily, weekly or monthly, and running lists. Daily to-do lists cover what you want to accomplish in just one day, while weekly and monthly lists cover weeks and months.

Running to-do lists are catch-all lists, perfect for when something needs to get done at some point, but it’s not time-sensitive. You can use a running to-do list to remember things that could be updated or streamlined when you have the time. You can also use these lists to keep track of ideas you have for future projects.

Note Your Deadlines

When you add items to your to-do list, write down the deadline for each task. Writing down all your deadlines in one place makes it easier to keep track of them so you’re less likely to miss a deadline. This can also help you see, at a glance, which tasks should take priority.

Consider rewriting or reordering your to-do list so that the deadlines are in chronological order, so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.

Organize By Priority

Now that you know your deadlines, you can prioritize your to-do list. The closer the deadline is, the higher that task’s priority. Keep in mind how difficult and time-consuming each task is, as well.

Be Specific

An effective to-do list will be a list of small tasks, not big projects. Your list will be more manageable if larger projects are broken into the smaller tasks you need to do to complete the project.

Keep It Realistic

Running lists are idealistic. An effective to-do list for a certain day or week needs to be realistic. How much can you really get done in that much time?

It might seem like a good idea to write down everything you could possibly do in the hopes of getting it all done. Chances are, though, you won’t get to a lot of those tasks and you’ll just look at your list at the end of the day and feel disappointed in yourself for not doing more.

If you’re putting your to-do list down on paper, try using a small piece of paper like a sticky note, to give yourself a physical limit on how much you can put on your list.

Stay Flexible

Chances are that your to-do list is going to grow throughout the day – someone will ask you to do something or you’ll get an email that needs a response.

Stay flexible with your to-do list. Leave yourself room for those things that just pop up throughout the day, even if it means you don’t quite finish everything on your list.

Keep A Did-It List

It’s frustrating to look back on your to-do list at the end of the day and see all the things that aren’t checked off.

To combat that frustration, try keeping a ‘did-it’ list. A did-it list is just a list of everything you did in a day so that you can look back on it and recognize all the things you accomplished.

No task is too small for your did-it list – emails, phone calls, and meetings can all go on this list along with completed tasks from your to-do list.


These are all good tips for making an effective to-do list, but different methods will work for different people. Try a new approach every once in a while, and don’t be afraid to adapt and combine different methods to suit your needs.